Thursday, 18 February 2010

Silver Medal for Fire and Ice Balcony Design, RHS Plant and Design Show

My colleague, Brenda, and I were delighted to get a silver medal at the RHS Spring Plant and Design Show on 16th February. The feedback from visitors and the judges was really encouraging. Here are some pictures and plant notes.  Read more about the brief for the design in the entry before this. A big thanks to friends, family and neighbours who helped get the show on the road, and very special thanks to Kate without whom it could not have happened (her garden features on this blog elsewhere).

Crocus chyrsanthus 'Goldilocks', is also known as the snow crocus as it appears early, in February.  Note the flame-like markings up the sides of the petals, which are characteristic of the species and seen in other cultivars, be they blue or yellow.  The species comes from the arid areas of southern Turkey, where the bulbs will bake summer-long in its dormant phase.  It's ideally suited to a sunny balcony. 

The black strappy leaves are Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' which is seen a lot in garden centres, people's gardens and public planting because it is a real 'do-er'. The black straps turn blackest in full sun and contrast beautifully with the terracotta mulch (broken pots tumbled in a cement mixer to round the edges) and spring bulbs.

Snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii, and silverbush, Convulus cneorum, on the left, add to the 'ice' dimension of our scheme. Convolvulus loves the sun. The finely-felted silvery leaves reflect strong light and hold moisture close to the leaf surface. It is covered with a mass of white trumpet like flowers in early summer, with some repeat flowering through the year.  It needs pruning after flowering to keep it compact, and this will encourage further flowering. The plant is NOT fully hardy, and lots of visitors to the show reported having lost plants in winter, probably due to the soil being too wet, rather than too cold.  The plant would be fine on a London balcony. All our plants here like to have free drainage.  The Belfast sinks they are in would have a gritty compost and a good layer of crocks in the bottom. 

'Flames' were provided by two species of Libertia: L. peregrinans 'Gold Leaf' (shorter grass-like plant bottom right, in left hand picture), and two varieties of L. ixioides, 'Goldfinger' and and 'Taupo Blaze'.  From New Zealand, these plants like full sun and moist, well-drained soil though they can withstand dry conditions well.  Views vary on hardiness, but a grower at the show,, says they are ok to -10 degrees.  They certainly wouldn't have a problem on a London balcony. The specimen of 'Goldfinger'in the picture on the right of has leaves that have turned orange under cold stress to dramatic effect. Incidentally, the grower completely sold out of Libertia and we like to think our scheme had something to do with that!
Here you can see Libertia in one of the pair of chimney pots, with ivy, Hedera helix 'Glacier'. Also, you see the top of the Convovulus with its flowers that magically opened in time for judging.  Several visitors asked how we did that - just luck!
The scheme as a whole, showing the salvage materials and the RHS balcony set.

And lastly Brenda and I at the beginning of build.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

RHS Spring Plant and Design Show, Victoria, London. Fire and Ice Balcony design

A fellow student from Capel Manor College and I have had a design accepted for the RHS Spring Plant and Design Show, 16th and 17th February.  The theme is 'The 25-mile balcony', the idea being that all plants and materials would be sourced within 25 miles of the RHS HQ in Vincent Square, London SW1, to promote ecological choices with low 'air miles'. Originally it was 20 miles, but even so this has been a tough brief, with lots of research to find plants that nurseries grow themselves (so much comes from Holland and Italy), and that would look good in February.  Plants have to be able to be in situ for at least 12 months. 
Planting choices were inspired by adaptation to dry conditions and suitability for containers on a sunny balcony. Visits to nurseries established some key plants. A Fire and Ice theme emerged. Key plants Libertia and Convolvulus lead to fresh associations for year-round interest.
The traditional frontage of the balcony set provided and the 25-mile rule suggested London salvage for containers and materials:  ceramic Belfast sinks, terracotta chimney pots, cast iron wall-mounted rain hoppers.  The materials, forged in intense fire but cool for many years, complement the plant textures and colours. The sinks are from a Stockwell school, the chimneys from a Clapham mansion block and the hoppers from a Chelsea house. All plants were sourced from nurseries within 25 miles of SW1.

Watch this space for pix of  assembled balcony and full plant list.  Come and visit,